MOSCA – On Friday the National Park Service (NPS) released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (GRSA) Ungulate Management Plan (draft plan/EIS), which includes a 45-day public comment period that closes May 31.
The draft plan/EIS analyzes alternatives to manage elk and bison within GRSA that would support long-term protection of resources and that would be compatible with conditions and management activities across the broader eastern San Luis Valley landscape.
During the public comment period, the NPS will host two in-person meetings where staff will be present and discuss information on the draft plan/EIS.
• May 9 (6-7:30 p.m.)
Rio Grande Water Conservation District
8805 Independence Way
• May 10 (6-7:30 p.m.)
Baca National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters
69812 County Road T
The draft plan/EIS will be available for public review and comment online via the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) website (http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grsa-ungulates) and during public meetings. Comments will also be accepted via mail.
The EIS process began in 2011 with the publication of a Notice of Intent. After receiving input from interested stakeholders, the NPS revised the scope of the draft plan/EIS and conducted a second round of scoping in 2015. The comments the NPS received at that time were used to help inform and develop the alternatives that are now included in the draft plan/EIS. Similarly, the NPS will use the comments received on the draft plan/EIS to develop the final plan/EIS.
“The National Park Service has an important opportunity to work with state and federal partners to manage elk to improve habitat conditions in wetland and riparian areas of the park while also contributing to broader objectives for elk in the San Luis Valley,” said Great Sand Dunes Acting Superintendent Tucker Blythe. “In addition, the National Park Service is in the unique position to further the bison conservation legacy of The Nature Conservancy in the valley while also contributing to the Department of the Interior Bison Conservation Initiative. As such, we will continue to work with our stakeholders, the public, and local, state and federal partners to ensure a collaborative final product.”
Elk and bison are on the GRSA landscape today. The elk herd in the eastern San Luis Valley has grown to historically high levels, and approximately 1,700 bison are currently managed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) on the Medano Ranch. Current evidence suggests that the effects of elk on wetland vegetation communities are a result of disproportionate use of these sensitive habitats (as opposed to overall population abundance). In addition to addressing elk overconcentration, the alternatives provide options for the future management of bison in light of evolving views on bison conservation.
Under the preferred alternative, the NPS proposes a suite of lethal and nonlethal tools to alter elk distribution in the park, while continuing public elk hunting on the preserve. In addition, the NPS would seek to partner with TNC to manage bison for five to seven years following NPS’s acquisition of the Medano Ranch. After this timeframe, the NPS would assume sole responsibility of bison management at a lower density and would use tools such as roundups and translocation, hazing, and lethal removal to manage bison abundance and distribution in the park. Over the long term, the NPS would use an adaptive management framework to manage elk and bison to meet desired conditions for wetland ecological integrity and vegetation.